What You Can Do about Flooding

The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

Garden
CBF volunteers plant a garden in Hampton in Fall 2016. Practices such as rain gardens and dry wells can help alleviate nuisance flooding while also improving water quality. Photo by CBF Staff.

A recent report that nuisance flooding is becoming more frequent in Hampton Roads comes as no surprise to most of us who live here.

Rainstorms regularly wreak havoc on traffic as water fills commuter routes, while king tides can flood streets even on calm sunny days. In my own neighborhood in the north end of Virginia Beach, flooding is so severe that even emergency vehicles like ambulances and firetrucks struggle to get through the high water.

Sea level rise is occurring on such a massive scale that it's easy to feel that there's nothing we can do as individuals. But there are steps you can take at home to alleviate flooding due to rainfall, a big part of the problem here.

Most of these practices involve holding excess water and allowing it to filter into the ground slowly. They include relatively easy and affordable steps like planting trees and installing rain gardens. What's more, such things also reduce polluted runoff, a major source of problems in local waterways.

I can tell you firsthand that they work. At my own home, those perpetual soggy patches in the yard have disappeared since I installed rain barrels and dry wells. While it may seem like a drop in the bucket, it's all about cumulative impact. If most of the homes in your neighborhood would implement these practices, you would notice a real decrease in nuisance flooding.

Each property is unique, but one of the following five things is likely to work for you.

  • Rain gardens are shallow basins filled with native plants. These gardens collect and absorb rainwater running off rooftops, driveways and streets, reducing flooding.
  • Planting trees in open or grassy areas creates a leafy canopy that intercepts rainfall and reduces runoff. The water is instead released slowly or later evaporates. A street tree can intercept from 760 to 3,000 gallons per year, depending on the size and species.
  • Permeable pavers, unlike traditional concrete or asphalt, are made up of porous materials that allow water to pass through. Using permeable pavers on a path, driveway, or street means rainfall can soak into the ground, instead of pooling and running off hard surfaces.
  • Rain barrels collect and store rainfall flowing from roofs and through downspouts. This water can later be used to water lawns and gardens during dry spells.
  • Dry wells are shallow trenches filled with stone or gravel that hold runoff, allowing it to soak into the ground.

While cities in Hampton Roads are making progress by addressing flooding on municipal property, governments can't do it all on their own. Most of the land in Hampton Roads is private property. That's why it is so important that homeowners and businesses do their part.

Fortunately, some local governments are recognizing the value of these techniques by offering incentives to property owners.

Norfolk recently took a big step in the right direction. The city approved a program to reduce the required stormwater fee for property owners who deploy techniques that reduce runoff, like the ones described above.

I hope that other cities in Hampton Roads will see this example and follow suit.

If we all are able to hold back excess water and rainfall at the source, at our own homes, we can make a dent in the flooding problem.

What's more, many of these steps also beautify the neighborhood, save money, attract wildlife and help clean up local rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

—Thomas Quattlebaum, CBF's Sea Level Rise Fellow


Slowing the Flow: A Major Transformation in Waynesboro

How Virginia is Stopping Polluted Runoff with the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund

AFTER  2016.12.01 ALT VIEW
Recently, part of Waynesboro's Jefferson Park neighborhood has undergone a pretty amazing transformation. What at first glance used to be a boggy, grassy field has been turned into a 10-acre manmade wetland, complete with growing native plants and cascading ponds on a 13-acre site.

It was an ambitious project for this small city in the Shenandoah Valley just west of the Blue Ridge. But as the effort nears completion it is starting to pay off.

For nearly 20 years the site was an open field with a small stream running through the middle that served as a dry detention pond, meaning that during heavy rains the low-lying field collected and held back excess water. This has helped with flooding issues in the surrounding neighborhood.

BEFORE 2015.12.15 DRONE
Before the project began.

But as Waynesboro began to look into ways to cut pollution entering the South River, the large field's potential was seen as "low hanging fruit," said Trafford McRae, Waynesboro's Stormwater Program Manager. With changes, the site could have a big impact in reducing polluted runoff.

Over the course of 2016, the small stream was routed through terraced pools and ponds carved out of the field. With construction now complete, as each pool fills with water, the excess water cascades over rocks and enters the next pool. Native grasses and trees like bald cypress and silky dogwood surround the new waterways.

During a heavy rainstorm, the pools retain and slow down excess water so sediment can settle out, and the plants absorb and filter the polluted runoff before it moves downstream.

It will take a year or two for the plants to establish themselves and fill in, but as they do, the site will attract more and more wildlife and beautify the neighborhood.

As the plants spread, the wetlands will provide better habitat for frogs, turtles, songbirds, deer, and a host of other animals. 

McRae envisions that the site will be used as a passive park with a community garden, trails around the pond, and signs explaining the project and history of the nearby stream. The once vacant field will become a community amenity.

AFTER 2016.12.01 DRONE
After the project was completed.

The new wetlands were paid for completely by state grants and loans, including the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) and the Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund. "We wouldn't have even dreamed of tackling this project for probably another 10 years without the SLAF grant," McRae said.

Waynesboro officials are pleased, as they really value local waterways. "More and more, the city council and our community recognize that the South River and its tributary streams here in Waynesboro are among our most valuable resources. We're home to an urban trout fishery; we're installing boat launches and trails along the river; and the South River is a designated blueway," Waynesboro Mayor Bruce Allen said. "Completing the Jefferson Pond retrofit is part of a mindset and a local culture we're promoting here for protecting water resources."

The Numbers

 
Size of Wetland: 10 acres
Pounds of Phosphorus Expected to be Removed Per Year:  300 pounds
SLAF Grant: $850,000
Total Project Cost:  $1.6 million

 

Stay tuned for more stories of how innovative projects like these can help Virginia stop harmful polluted runoff from entering our rivers, streams, and Bay!  

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Click here to read our full "Slowing the Flow" polluted runoff series.

ABOVE PHOTOS COURTESY OF TIMMONS GROUP.

 


CBF Building Exhibits a Resilient Future

The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

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CBF's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, VA was built with climate change in mind. Photo by Chris Gorri/CBF Staff.

This year's rough weather has battered Hampton Roads. It's not just the summer's brutal heat wave. It's the deluge of seven inches of rain that fell in just two hours in July, the high waters that surrounded buildings when Hurricane Hermine hit over Labor Day, and the 13 inches of rain that fell overnight in late September, or the massive amounts of rain that accompanied Hurricane Matthew.

Newscasts and the newspaper have been filled with images of water lapping around houses, submerged cars, and rowboats navigating flooded streets.

It's a window into the future.

But since opening nearly two years ago, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach has remained undamaged. Sometimes, even as rains fell and the winds howled, locals gathered there to watch storms roll in over the Lynnhaven River. They knew that the CBF building is climate-change ready, designed to be resilient in the face of the toughest weather.

"After a bad storm, community members visit the Brock Center to see how it weathered," said Brock Center Manager Chris Gorri. "Severe weather becomes a teachable moment. People ask questions about the wind turbines or want to see how high the water is on the Lynnhaven River." Some want to learn how they can adapt their own homes to better cope with recurrent flooding.

Designed and built to withstand the effects some of the worst weather in the world, the center is a model for a region increasingly at risk. According to Old Dominion University's Center for Sea Level Rise, sea levels have risen 14 inches in Hampton Roads since 1930. Low lying cities, rising waters, and sinking lands are why.

The Brock Center is ready. It is raised 14 feet above sea level, staying high and dry during flooding. Its windows can withstand a collision with a two-by-four hurled at 110 miles per hour. Its grounds are designed to eliminate runoff.

Gravel paths and permeable roadways and parking areas let water soak into the ground. The Brock Center's one-of-a-kind rainwater treatment system filters rain falling on the center's roof for use as drinking water.

The building is set far back from the river, with a wide sandy buffer of grasses and shrubs that absorbs storm surges.

In early October, Hurricane Matthew brought strong winds and up to 12 inches of rain in the region, inundating some roadways under several feet of water. Schools closed, power was out for days, and officials urged cutbacks on water usage because of stressed sewer systems.

At the Brock Center, that storm flipped over benches and knocked over a large sturdy sign. But the strongest flooding seen at Brock came a year earlier, as storms linked to Hurricane Joaquin sent water from the Lynnhaven River rushing knee-deep under the raised building. Neither storm damaged the building or its wind turbines.

The Brock Center also fights back against climate change with its residential wind turbines and solar panels, which produce far more energy than the building consumes and send clean excess energy to the grid. The center's energy conservation allows it to use 80 percent less energy than a typical office building of its size.

Thanks to these innovations, earlier this year the Brock Center achieved one of the toughest building standards in the world. Living Building Challenge certification from the International Living Future Institute requires a building to produce more energy than it uses over the course of 12 consecutive months and meet a host of other strict criteria.

As we increasingly grapple with the effects of climate change, the Brock Center shines brightly as a solution. Sustainability means more than just energy efficiency. It means being able to sustain the extremes nature can and will throw at us. With Brock, we're proving that we have a choice to raise the bar, reduce pollution, and adapt to climate change.

And, we can do it in comfort and beauty.

—Mary Tod Winchester, CBF's Vice President for Administration


This Week in the Watershed: A Growing Source of Pollution

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Polluted runoff is one of the major sources of pollution growing in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

Seventeen million. That's the number of people living in the Chesapeake Bay region. This presents a natural obstacle to clean water, most notably in efforts to reduce polluted runoff. A major source of pollution that continues to grow, water flowing off our streets, parking lots, and building rooftops, picks up all kinds of pollutants like pet waste, sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, oil, and automotive fluids. As more houses, roads, and shopping centers are built, more of this polluted runoff makes its way through gutters and storm drains to the nearest river or stream and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.

Given this reality, it's disappointing Maryland's Department of Environment is allowing localities to skirt their responsibilities by not funding efforts to reduce polluted runoff. While polluted runoff improvements might not top the list of most compelling government expenditures, failing to make this investment will all but guarantee clean water will remain out of reach.

The more impermeable surfaces we develop, saving the Bay and its rivers and streams will only become more difficult. If we want to leave a legacy of clean water to future generations, we need to fully implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. With 17 million residents living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—certain to only balloon further—failing to invest in efforts to reduce polluted runoff is a mistake we cannot afford.

P.S.- Our fall version of e-news just hit inboxes yesterday. Check out these state and program updates! Pennsylvania | Maryland | Eastern Shore of Maryland | Virginia | Hampton Roads | Federal Affairs

This Week in the Watershed: Reducing Runoff, Hungry Geese, and Pumping Water

  • Hampton Roads is taking an innovative approach to impede the slowly rising sea. (Washington Post—D.C.)
  • Canadian geese aren't receiving a very warm welcome in the Anacostia River wetlands, as they are hindering efforts to restore tidal marshes. (Bay Journal)
  • Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director, spoke to the Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources and Energy, and Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees, advocating for a sustainable funding stream for Pennsylvania's clean water reboot. (CBF Press Statement)
  • The giant blue crab caught on a CBF Education trip in the lower Susquehanna Flats last week is still turning heads! (Bay Journal)
  • Throughout Maryland, many localities are not properly funding measures to reduce polluted runoff. (Baltimore Sun—MD) Bonus: CBF Press Statement
  • The proliferation of chicken houses on an industrial scale across the Eastern Shore has raised economic, environmental, and public health concerns among residents. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

October 22

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Come on out to a sustainable living expo. This fun, family-friendly event is designed as a showcase for eco-friendly, sustainable solutions, crafts, and food, with many participating organizations. See ideas you can use at your home from edible landscaping and urban gardening to beekeeping and alternative energy. CBF is also looking for volunteers to help staff a CBF display and share information with attendees at the expo. This event is suitable for all volunteer experience levels, so come out, share, and learn. Email or call Tanner Council to inquire and volunteer at tcouncil@cbf.org or call 757-622-1964.

October 29

  • Woodsboro, MD: Help CBF plant over 1,000 trees and shrubs along Israel Creek on a beef cattle farm in Frederick County. Approximately 5,000 feet of stream banks will be planted resulting in six acres of new riparian buffer. Israel Creek is in the Monocacy River watershed which flows to the Potomac River then to the Chesapeake Bay. Click here to register!

November 3

  • Easton, MD: Oyster season is here, and whether or not you're a fan of eating the Bay's beloved bivalve, you've probably noticed a growing number of farmed oyster varieties available in local seafood markets and restaurants on the Eastern Shore. This is a sure sign that oyster farming, also known as "aquaculture," is on the rise in Maryland. Join us for a forum on this rising trend to learn more about oyster aquaculture from experts in the field. The event is free, but click here to register!

November 5

  • Smithsburg, MD: Join CBF at this recently completed stream restoration project on Little Antietam Creek and help us with the final stages of restoring the stream banks and floodplain. Volunteers will install live stakes consisting of willow cuttings as well as native trees and shrubs.  Learn about stream restoration techniques used throughout the region by touring this recently completed project and lend your hand for the final touches. Click here to register!

November 6

  • Annapolis, MD: Join approximately 25,000 runners and walkers crossing the 4.35-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge as part of the third annual Across the Bay 10k. The dual-span bridge doesn’t allow pedestrian traffic at any other time of the year, so this is a unique opportunity—and the view is amazing! CBF is an official charity partner of the Across the Bay 10k and we are excited to offer Charity Bibs as part of that partnership. It's a win-win...you get a guaranteed entry into the race and help save the Bay with a donation to CBF! Get your charity bib now!

November 12

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Volunteer with CBF at Calypso Bar & Grill! We will be celebrating our favorite bivalve, the oyster, with an oyster roast. Volunteers are needed to help recycle the oyster shells, pour beverages, and take tickets. A portion of the proceeds will help CBF in its work to save the Bay! To volunteer, please email or call Tanner Council at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Slowing the Flow: Fixing Flooding with Gardens and Wetlands

How Virginia is Stopping Polluted Runoff with the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund

Church rain garden completed
Grace Baptist Church after the rain garden project was complete. Photo by Fran Geissler.

The three houses probably should never have been built on the low swampy ground in the James Terrace neighborhood in Williamsburg. Every time heavy rain fell, water filled crawl spaces, and yards flooded. At one property, the house would nearly become an island after storms. The site was developed in the 1950s, and because of poor drainage, it wouldn't pass muster for a new home today.

Church rain garden before (Google street view)
Grace Baptist Church before the project began. Image courtesy of Google Street View.

Fortunately, with the help of a grant from the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF), homeowners, a local church, and James City County were able to work together on a holistic solution. The system of rain gardens and wetlands put in place has not only reduced flooding, it's also stopped polluted runoff and beautified the neighborhood.

The first step began with Grace Baptist Church, which sits on high ground above the homes. Rain would wash off the church's roof and parking lot, sending runoff down the slope into the neighborhood. This created a "domino effect" of flooding, said James City County Stormwater Director Fran Geissler.

"We wanted to slow down all of that water and catch it before it runs down the hill," Geissler said.

Cascading pools 1
A series of cascading pools to reduce flooding and polluted runoff in the neighborhood. Photo by Stephen B. Geissler.

The solution was to build a large rain garden on the side of the church facing the James Terrace neighborhood. The garden grows in a dug-out depression, which holds water flowing off the church roof and lot. It's filled with native plants that soak up and filter this runoff.

In the past, rains would turn the area into a muddy quagmire where cars often got stuck. But since the garden was completed, the spot brightens up the roadside. "It has addressed drainage issues on one side of the church and also allows us to contribute to the community in a way we haven't before," said Pastor Stephen Wiley of Grace Baptist Church. "The garden beautifies one side of the church and also helps our neighbors. The more water we hold back, the less flooding they will have downstream."

The next step was to address the downhill properties that were experiencing flooding, where three homes were built on a former swamp. The solution was to build two series of cascading rocky pools surrounded by shrubs and grasses, basically reconstructing

Church rain garden planting 3
Planting the rain garden at Grace Baptist Church. Photo by Fran Geissler.

those wetlands. "Parts of the yards were turned back into their natural state," Geissler said. The county worked closely with homeowners to make sure they were pleased with the result.

The garden and wetlands were completed last summer, and since then the area has experienced heavy rains. But the project is working, and has reduced flooding substantially, Geissler said. The county is now completing the final phases, which involve upgrading drainage downstream of the neighborhood.

The pools and the garden also filter out pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus and remove bacteria, which would otherwise flow into the James River and, eventually, the Chesapeake Bay. These solutions are part of meeting Virginia's commitments to restore the Bay under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

State support from the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund was crucial to making it all a reality, according to Geissler. "I doubt this project would have been built without SLAF funding," she said. "SLAF funding provided an impetus to county decision-makers to provide additional funds to address stormwater issues in the neighborhood."

The Numbers  
Stormwater Local Assistance Fund Share $210,000
Construction Start October 2015
Project Completion  July 2016

 

Stay tuned for more stories of how innovative projects like these can help Virginia stop harmful polluted runoff from entering our rivers, streams, and Bay!  

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Click here to read our full "Slowing the Flow" polluted runoff series.

 


'Rain Tax' Helps Fight Polluted Run-Off in County Streams

The following first appeared in the Howard County Times.

Cascade-falls-1200
Young girls swimming at Cascade Falls this past June. Cascade Falls was one of several locations throughout the watershed where bacteria was found at unsafe levels. Photo by Maryann Webb/CBF Intern.

Excrement in Howard County streams and rivers isn't just a problem after a deluge like we had July 30. Water testing this summer by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found extremely unhealthy bacteria levels in several streams after typical summer thunderstorms. Some of those test sites were swimming holes.

The tests were commissioned by CBF, and conducted by Hood College in Frederick. The partnership tested Columbia lakes in the summer of 2015, finding modestly elevated bacteria levels. This summer, tests were focused on streams feeding the Patapsco River.

People may think waste in our water is only a problem occasionally when sewer lines break in heavy storms, such as the leak that occurred after the July 30 floods, or a problem isolated to big cities such as Baltimore. Not so. CBF tested six Howard streams and rivers after rain storms of as little as a half inch or rain. CBF also tested several times during dry conditions.

The results were troubling. Most sites had unsafe readings even during dry weather, but those readings spiked after ordinary summer storms. Readings at the Cascade Falls swimming hole in Patapsco Valley State Park were up to 300 times above safety limits after a one-inch storm on July 5.

Levels at another popular swimming area on the Patapsco River near Henryton were up to 450 times too high after a 1.5-inch rain a few days before the tragic July 30 storm.

Scientists say water with such high amounts of fecal matter poses health risks to swimmers and others, who can get stomach and intestinal illnesses.

And unfortunately, these high readings at swimming holes weren't atypical. We also found extremely elevated bacteria levels in a small stream running through a residential neighborhood in Elkridge, at the Sucker Branch running past prayer stations at Our Lady's Center in Ellicott City, and at the Plumtree Branch at Dunloggin Middle School, among other sites.

CBF also conducted tests in four other Maryland counties, and in Baltimore City. Additional sites also were tested in Virginia and Pennsylvania. A map of the Howard and other sites can be found at www.cbf.org.

What does all this mean? It means Howard County continues to have a problem with polluted runoff. That's the term we use for water that runs off the land during storms, and picks up all types of contaminants, including possible human and animal waste from leaking sewer or septic systems, pet or livestock waste, and other pollution.

Many of Howard County's local waters, including the Middle Patuxent River, the Upper Patuxent, the Little Patuxent and the Patapsco River Lower North Branch, are considered "impaired" by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Polluted runoff is a major culprit in this problem.

The good news is Howard County leaders stayed strong and retained the county's stormwater fee. Sometimes derided as the "rain tax," this funding source is used to upgrade the county's neglected stormwater system. That work is now underway.

The risks of flooding also will decrease around the county as this work is completed, a major benefit in addition to water quality improvements.

These sorts of upgrades to the county's drainage system take years to undertake, and residents should be patient. But the tests this summer underscore the urgent need for the work.

While we wait, families might heed the rule-of-thumb guidance of MDE: wait 48 hours after a significant rain storm to swim or recreate in any natural waters of Maryland. That unfortunate directive is necessary because polluted runoff remains a major problem for much of the state.

At least Howard County has dedicated significant funds to reduce that pollution.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director


Slowing the Flow: A Pioneering Parking Lot

How Virginia Can Stop Polluted Runoff with the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund

Aerial Completed Project
An aerial view of the completed project.

A parking lot isn't usually something to get excited about. But believe it or not, the Ashland Police Department's new lot is pretty innovative when it comes to fighting pollution.

It started a few years ago, when it was time to repave the aging asphalt at the police station in Ashland, a small town north of Richmond. At that time, Ashland Town Engineer Ingrid Stenbjørn was beginning to look for ways the town could cut the amount of polluted runoff entering local waterways in an effort to meet new Virginia requirements.

Instead of just covering the parking lot with a new layer of asphalt, Stenbjørn suggested installing permeable pavers. On most paved areas, when it rains, water just runs off the hard surfaces, washing dirt, oil, grime, grease, and other pollution into nearby streams and rivers. However, permeable pavers allow water to pass through, effectively stopping much of this polluted runoff.

Stream Before
Before the project started.

The project at the police station was the perfect chance to upgrade the lot with something more environmentally friendly. "Every time we have a maintenance need here in the town, we consider if there's a way we can also reduce the amount of pollution that goes into our waters," Stenbjørn said.

There was just one problem. Ashland had a tight budget that year, and permeable pavers aren't the cheapest option upfront. Fortunately, the town was able to get support from Virginia's Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which provides matching funds to effective projects that reduce runoff. Together with a separate grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ashland could pay for the whole effort. "It was a really bad budget year, but those grants made this project possible," Stenbjørn said.

Even better, the grants also funded the restoration of a small stream that runs next to the parking lot. Before the work, the stream was in bad shape. It had a huge drainage area, and storms would send polluted runoff gushing through its deep channel, doing a lot of damage in the process. There was almost no life in the stream.

Stream After
After the project was completed.

The restoration widened the channel, which now allows flow from storms to spread out and slow down. Native plants are now taking hold in the new floodplain, helping absorb more of the water. Frogs and birds have returned to the stream.

Since the project's completion in November 2015, it's not only cut down on pollution, but has also created a mini oasis next to the station. Ashland Police Department Chief Douglas Goodman said that the Department "was pleased to be a part of such an earth-friendly project. In addition to being environmentally sound, the new creek bed is such a pleasant sight to see and can be quite calming."

The Numbers

 
Total Project Cost $367,957 
Stormwater Local Assistance Fund Share $168,500
Construction Start June 2015
Project Completion November 2015

 

Stay tuned for more stories of how innovative projects like these can help Virginia stop harmful polluted runoff from entering our rivers, streams, and Bay!  

—Text by Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator; Photos by Ingrid Stenbjorn

 


Ditches for Clean Water

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Ditches, such as this one under construction in Talbot County, are an innovative and inexpensive way to reduce polluted runoff. Photo by Amy Jacobs.

The word "ditch" doesn't conjure up good feelings about water quality, wildlife habitat, or aesthetics. But a new kind of ditch is offering serious opportunity for the Eastern Shore's Talbot County to meet its nitrogen reduction goal under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The goal is restoring fish, crab, and waterfowl habitat in waterways like the Choptank and Miles Rivers. 

For a long time, we humans designed "funnels"—stormwater pipes and U-shaped open ditches—to substitute for natural streams in moving rainwater quickly away from inconvenient places like roadways and farm fields. Trouble is, the folks who designed them didn't pay enough attention to the way natural streams "work" with rainfall, so over time, the pipe/ditch systems filled with sediment in some spots, eroded in others, and degraded the quality of the water that moved through them, picking up pollutants from the land and carrying them downstream.

Then some enterprising civil engineers in the Midwest had an idea. Suppose they designed two-stage ditches that mimicked nature by providing a small central channel sized to accommodate average natural (base) flow, with "benches" (floodplains) on either side for overflow. Plant the benches with native wetland grasses and they would allow the ditches to catch water from heavy storms, slow it, and let some of it percolate into the soil, where the grasses' root systems would catch sediment and soak up nitrogen, phosphorus, and even some toxic chemicals.

Sound intriguing? That's what CBF's Eastern Shore Office Director, Alan Girard, thought when Amy Jacobs of The Nature Conservancy's Maryland Chapter told him about the idea over coffee one morning. Jacobs was exploring the use of LIDAR (laser-based LIght Detection And Ranging) deployed from aircraft to plot drainage patterns on farm fields leading to Talbot's system of roadside ditches. Girard realized the system might offer a "two-fer" by catching and treating runoff from both the fields and the roadways. The widened ditches take some extra land from both farms and road rights-of-way, but LIDAR allows designers to focus strategically where the ditches provide the most benefit. In terms of cost per pound of nitrogen removed from county waterways, the two-stage ditches offered an attractive, inexpensive alternative to complex urban stormwater retrofits.

The concept is good, but what counts for restoring waterways is putting these ditches to work in the right places. Thus the effort had to blend technology with local politics and public administration. Siting and building them requires teamwork from two agencies, the Department of Public Works (for roadways) and the Talbot Conservation District (for farmland), plus funding. At this point, Alan Girard brought multiple players together to build that team and raise grants for several pilot projects. The discussions included County Council members, staffers from the two agencies and the two nonprofits, and—very important—farmers cultivating land adjacent to county roadways.

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Photo by Amy Jacobs.

The result of the discussions was a $100,000 capital budget item in the 2015 Talbot County budget, which allowed the pilot programs to begin. This year, the county set aside another $50,000 for more ditches and for monitoring their effectiveness. The major challenges now for the project partners are to refine and standardize the techniques, employ the County's funds as leverage for larger grants, and go to work on other priority ditches across the county. The Talbot Ditch Project is essentially about applying an agricultural Best Management Practice (BMP) to suburban stormwater runoff pollution. If early results continue, the two-stage ditch technique has great application for other counties and towns on the Eastern Shore, and in other rural areas of the region. "It's a cheap, simple, common-sense approach that doesn't take much land away from farms or roadways," concluded Girard.

Thought this story would be about crabs, rockfish, and Chesapeake science? Well, it is. Who knew that Saving the Bay would turn out to be about Midwestern engineering, ditches, lasers, excavators, and local government, all working together for clean water? That's the kind of creative partnership thinking that gets this job done.  

—John Page Williams, CBF's Senior Naturalist


Teachers Connect Schools to Improving Pennsylvania's Water Quality

The following first appeared in The Sentinel.

Pa-teachers
Teachers take a closer look at a Dragonfly Nymph being held by CBF Educator Emily Thorpe, right, during a study of aquatic life along the Susquehanna River. The two-day workshop showed teachers what schools can do to reduce polluted runoff and improve Pennsylvania's water quality. Teachers are, from left, Sondra Picciotto of Harrisburg City, Abigail Frey of the Diocese of Harrisburg, and Nicolette Place of Northern York. Photo by Myrannda Kleckner.

A group of Pennsylvania teachers became students when the lessons turned to what schools can do to reduce polluted runoff and improve the Commonwealth's water quality. The two-day "Pennsylvania's Waterways: Real Change, Real Connections Workshop" was sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) Susquehanna Watershed Education Program.

"The main idea of the workshop was for teachers to connect their schoolyards and communities to local waterways," said CBF Educator Emily Thorpe. "It is proven that urban and suburban runoff is the fastest growing source of pollution. These teachers will have the experience to learn what types of best management practices may be beneficial for their area and how they can go about proposing action to reduce pollution."

About 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania rivers and streams are polluted, and the Commonwealth has a Clean Water Blueprint to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff that is damaging its waters. But the Environmental Protection Agency reported recently that Pennsylvania is significantly behind in meeting its Blueprint goals of having 60 percent of the pollution-reduction practices necessary to restore water quality in place by 2017 and 100 percent in place by 2025.

Teachers who attended were asked to evaluate their schoolyards and identify water management strengths and weaknesses, so they might share suggestions for improvement, with students and the administrators.

"For most schools, we have too many paved surfaces that could cause problems with stormwater runoff," said Sondra Picciotto, a 7th and 8th grade science teacher in the Harrisburg City School District. "If schoolyards were able to add rain gardens and rain barrels to their campus, we would see positive effects in our local water."

"I believe that it would be better for schools to put money into programs like storm water practices," added Mary Catherine Sweeney, an English teacher at the Diocese of Harrisburg.

"A first step a school could do is to transform their open plots of land," said Jane Macedonia, a science teacher within Lancaster Catholic High School. "Turn them into rain gardens or add rain barrels that serve as biological functions that not only will be beneficial to your environment, but will be beneficial to the kids sitting in the classrooms."

Macedonia said, "There are so many types of programs that schools can adopt that conserve water quality. "Think about hydroponics. These systems recycle water throughout the process of growing plants, which later could be used within the school's cafeteria," she added. "No matter what type of program, though, the students will be having so much fun that they won't realize that it was meant to be a learning experience."

Nolan Canter, CBF educator for the Philip Merrill Center Education Program in Annapolis, MD, said, "For aquaponics, schools could raise trout or other fish inside the schools themselves and over time, be able to release them into local streams to help the populations. Also, students can learn about water chemistry while working on a project like this. It doesn't all have to be outside," he added.

During a session at the Wildwood Nature Center in Harrisburg, teachers learned more about water resources and the Chesapeake Bay, and how their schools measure up in preventing pollution. They also toured the Benjamin Olewine Nature Center and the Capital Region Water Treatment Plant. They spent the second day of the workshop paddling canoes down the Susquehanna River, stopping for hands-on lessons about aquatic life in the river, and water chemistry.

Teachers were from the Diocese of Harrisburg, Harrisburg City School District, Lancaster Catholic High School, Northern York School District, River Rock Academy, St. Catherine Laboure School, and St. John the Baptist Catholic School.

"If we emphasize water quality issues," said Nicolette Place, a teacher at Wellsville Elementary in the Northern York School District, "we will be able to come up with solutions that will continue to keep our environment healthy for the next generation."

—Myrannda Kleckner, CBF Pennsylvania Communications Intern


Benefits of Soil Health Extend beyond Farm

The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.

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Farmland in York County. Photo by John Pavoncello/York Dispatch.

Around the home and down on the farm, it's planting season. Prime time for digging in the dirt.

Gardeners are feeling the earth under foot and between their fingers. For farmers, the crop cycle is taking root with spring plantings.

Healthy soil is key to planting success and clean water.

As soil health improves, productivity increases. As soil health improves, it is better able to absorb rain and cycle nutrients, meaning less harmful runoff and cleaner, healthier water. It is an economic and environmental win-win.

Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania are polluted and the Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its clean water commitments.

Two of the top three sources of that pollution are agricultural and urban/suburban runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. So keeping the soil healthy and in place, are important factors in reducing pollution.

The down and dirty on soil, is that we don't always think of it as having health. But soil can be so much more than a vessel for short-term plant growth dependent solely on the amount of water and fertilizer it can hold. Healthy soil is a living ecosystem and host to organisms of all sizes.

Soil health is influenced by many factors, significant among them is what is planted into it, and the benefits returned to the soil.

Cover crops, including grasses and a mix of broadleaf plantings like clover, are planted on many farm fields after the harvest and allow the soil to absorb, retain, and recycle nutrients, especially nitrates. Cover crops also reduce runoff of phosphorus, as surface water and soil otherwise carry it into local waters.

Increasing organic matter in the soil through cover crops and conservation tillage can increase crop resilience to climate change because it retains water in times of drought, reduces runoff during heavy rains, and moderates soil temperatures in hot weather.

For every one percent increase in organic matter, soil can hold 16,500 gallons of additional water per acre. Cover crops also improve the physical properties of the soil, reducing the degree of surface-sealing and increasing the ability of water to infiltrate the soil, instead of wash over it.

A farmer's quote often repeated in our office is, "We don't have a runoff problem, we have an infiltration problem." It goes to the root of the matter. Improving soil's ability to retain and recycle water greatly reduces the problem of runoff.

No-till planting can reduce erosion by more than 80 percent, compared to deep plowing and crop rotation where crop residue is left in the field.

The benefits of soil health extend beyond the farm.

At home, mulching the lawn pays multiple dividends. Grass clippings provide nutrients and can be an alternative to chemical fertilizers. The cuttings can provide half of the nitrogen the lawn needs in a year.

Before adding any fertilizer to the lawn, homeowners should have their soil tested. Penn State Extension offices in every county sell simple test kits. The results indicate how much, if any, fertilizer or lime might be needed in order to obtain the right balance.

At home or on the farm, maintaining healthy soil that can absorb moisture and cycle nutrients for plant use, that stays anchored in place, plays a key role in reducing pollution that enters our rivers and streams.

That's the dirt on how Pennsylvania can get back on track toward cleaning up its waters.

Clean water is a legacy worth leaving future generations.

—Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director